MEXICO CITY – A powerful explosion shook downtown Havana on Friday morning, according to officials and news reports, killing at least eight people and injuring dozens, destroying parts of a luxury hotel and nearby buildings just yards from the Cuban capital. were damaged.
At least 13 people were reported missing, government officials said, and videos and photos shared on social media showed ambulances arriving at the scene, destroying much of the Saratoga Hotel facade, with debris on the street and smoke. that shot into the air.
“A lot of people are injured here,” Facebook user Ángel Cuza said in a video shot at the scene showing the mutilated remains of the hotel and a crowd of onlookers. He said people were trapped under the rubble.
Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel arrived shortly after the explosion, along with Prime Minister Manuel Marrero Cruz. The office of the Cuban presidency said on Twitter that “preliminary investigations indicate that the explosion was caused by a gas leak.”
“Search and rescue work continues at the hotel, where people may still be trapped,” the president’s office said. The Saratoga Hotel, an iconic 19th-century building, reopened in 2005 as a five-star luxury hotel.
Among the damaged buildings was the nearby Concepción Arenal School. A school teacher who declined to give her name said three students were injured. She said windows had been blown out, with shards of glass flying quite a distance.
State media reported that children were evacuated to the Capitol after the blast.
The Cuban Communist Party newspaper Granma said on Twitter that the explosion happened “while liquefied gas was believed to be being transported from a truck”.
The explosion comes just as Cuba’s all-important tourism industry began to recover after being hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. The island nation was closed to visitors for months, sending Cuba into one of the worst economic crises in history.
The disappearance of tourists robbed Cuba of vital foreign currency on which it relies heavily, exacerbating the financial challenges posed by the decades-long US embargo.
The economic crisis sparked one of the largest protest movements in Cuban history, with thousands of people taking to the streets in cities across the country. Subsequent government crackdowns have resulted in the incarceration of dozens of people for crimes including sedition.
The explosion happened while Cuba was hosting an international tourist fair in the nearby resort town of Varadero.